Women in Prison in the 1990s: A Temporal and Institutional Comparison (ICPSR 31221)

Published: Oct 27, 2011

Principal Investigator(s):
Candace Kruttschnitt, University of Toronto; Rosemary Gartner, University of Toronto


Version V1

This study explores the attitudes, perceptions and experiences of women in two prisons in California. The study includes both a temporal component comparing women's experiences in one prison in the early 1960s and the mid-1990s, and a comparative institutional component, comparing women's experiences in two different prisons operating in the social and policy milieu of the mid-1990s. It analyzes surveys of inmates and secondary data collected from official records, archives, and an earlier study of women in prison in California. The study portrayed women's reactions to prison as a function of (1) inmates' pre-prison characteristics, (2) characteristics of inmates' prison careers, (3) institutional structures and processes, (4) crime control ideologies and policies, (5) public attitudes toward crime and criminals, and (6) women's roles, opportunities, and lifestyles in the wider society. Closed-ended questions were developed for the survey designed to measure (1) the most difficult aspects of doing time, (2) the specific problems of prison life, (3) the various types of inmates and inmate relations, and (4) the nature of inmate-staff relations. The survey also included questions based on measures and scales used in penology research and the survey initially administered by Ward and Kassebaum to women prisoners in the 1960s. Demographic questions included age, ethnicity, if born in the United States, length of residence in the United States, marital status, and education.

Kruttschnitt, Candace, and Gartner, Rosemary. Women in Prison in the 1990s: A Temporal and Institutional Comparison. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2011-10-27. https://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR31221.v1

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National Science Foundation. Law and Social Sciences Program (SBR-9617285)


A set of 70 interviews that were conducted with inmates are not publicly available.

1977 -- 1997

1997 -- 1999

To preserve respondent confidentiality, the prison names have been removed from this release.

Survey made up of closed ended questions.

Surveys of the entire prison population excluding women in the secure housing units and mental health units. At Prison 1, 1,224 surveys were distributed by the principal investigators to the inmates and 940 were returned and usable; at Prison 2, 2500 surveys were left and distributed by the prison staff and 933 were returned in a usable format.

Longitudinal: Cohort / Event-based


The entire prison population of two prisons in California, excluding women in the secure housing units and mental health units.


survey data

The data file contains variables that measure: opinions about the direction of laws, opinions about the effects of the three strikes law, any good that came from doing time, aspects of prison that are hard to adjust to, ways staff have helped prisoners, annoying aspects of doing time, inmates experiences and actions, ease of inmates getting items, ease of buying favors, toughness of punishment, sociodemographics, jobs held, and how Prison 1 changed over time.

Prison 1: 77 percent response rate. Prison 2: 37 percent response rate.



2011-10-27 ICPSR data undergo a confidentiality review and are altered when necessary to limit the risk of disclosure. ICPSR also routinely creates ready-to-go data files along with setups in the major statistical software formats as well as standard codebooks to accompany the data. In addition to these procedures, ICPSR performed the following processing steps for this data collection:

  • Performed recodes and/or calculated derived variables.
  • Checked for undocumented or out-of-range codes.


  • Data in this collection are available only to users at ICPSR member institutions.

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